Feet wide apart, arms down by his side, he stares at the precise location where he will place the ball with his right foot. Before the run-up, there is an empathic sigh, with his lips pursed, as his shoulders go up and down, almost in emphatic fashion.  Cristiano Ronaldo runs up, strikes the center of the ball with his new Nike Mercurial Superfly CR7 boots, and sees the ball whiz past the goalkeeper, into the back of the net.
As CR7 sprints in elation towards the corner flag to celebrate the goal with fans and fellow teammates, a more modest celebration is taking place in Beaverton, Oregon – home to Nike Inc.’s global headquarters and base for the Nike Football development team. For several months, their team went through numerous iterations of design development, product testing and finally commercialization to get their newest product into the hands (or rather, feet) of one of the sports’ greatest football (i.e. soccer) icons.
 For the latest edition of the Mercurial football boot, Nike identified ‘fit’ as the focal point for their new product design. The boots’ game-changing 360 construction was only made possible through a new advancement in Nike Flyknit technology.  This technology has allowed Nike to establish yarns and fabric variations that are precisely engineered to create the lightest-possible, form-fitting and virtually seamless upper (i.e. the part of the shoe that covers the top/sides of foot and the back of the heel). 
Introducing Nike Flyprint 
But as Nike continues to lead the charge in product development for new football footwear, it is faced with two key challenges: lengthy product development timelines and increased demand for product customization. From the first sketch of a completely new pair of boots, to making and testing prototypes, ordering materials, sending samples back and forth, retooling a factory, working up production and eventually shipping the finished goods to the shops can take the company as long as 18 months. Yet, market demand for a boot may only last the length of a football season – ten months.  Additionally, athletes are finding the need for extreme customization to best address their athletic needs to provide a competitive advantage.
 This is where Nike is actively exploring advanced manufacturing technologies to further elevate the value of their product offerings. Nike’s recent partnership with Prodways, a global provider of industrial 3D printers, has allowed them to 3D-print outsoles, midsoles and insoles which are made from thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) material. The TPU material allows Nike to decrease manufacturing time while also providing higher performance and customization for top athletes. 
Although the prospects for additive manufacturing at Nike are bright, 3D-printing is not ubiquitous yet. Generally, it is too slow for mass production, too expensive for some applications and for others it results in products that are not up to the desired standard.  Advancements in additive manufacturing will surely help mitigate current challenges with speed and cost, but what Nike must make sure it protects is product performance.
So much of Nike’s established success has been lifted by the remarkable success of endorsement deals with elite athletes. Over the years, these athletes have proudly worn Nike gear/boots because of their innovative and cutting-edge aesthetics, but more importantly, their top performance. Even Cristiano Ronaldo attests that the latest Nike Mercurial Superfly CR7 boots are a supreme product. “They fit perfectly. The 360 innovation — it is perfect. They are comfortable and they look good, so they have everything.”  As Nike looks to incorporate 3D printing technologies into their global manufacturing strategy, they need to ensure their products remain ‘perfect’ for athletes, so they can be their ‘everything’.
Nike is not the only player actively exploring opportunities in additive manufacturing and 3D-printing. In summer of 2017, Adidas began manufacturing at a new production facility in Ansbach, Germany – poised to use robots and novel production techniques (such as 3D printing) to also shorten supply lead times and boost their product customization. Nike turned the football tide (away from Adidas) between the 1980’s and early 2000’s through innovative product development and effective digital marketing. Could an Adidas ‘win’ in additive manufacturing/3D printing reverse the football product tide back in their favor?
 Talbot, J. (2018, June 30). The Reason Why Cristiano Ronaldo Does His Trademark Stance Before Taking Free-Kicks. Retrieved from http://www.sportbible.com/football/football-news-the-reason-why-ronaldo-does-trademark-stance-before-free-kicks-20180630
 NIKE News. (2018, February 07). Introducing the Mercurial Superfly and Vapor 360: Fast By Nature. Retrieved from https://news.nike.com/news/mercurial-superfly-vapor-360
 NIKE News. (2012, February 21). NIKE engineers knit for performance. Retrieved from https://news.nike.com/news/nike-flyknit
 NIKE. Introducing Nike Flyprint. (2018, April 13). Retrieved from https://youtu.be/RFW35vTTGQI
 Adidas’s high-tech factory brings production back to Germany. (2017, January 14). The Economist.com. Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/business/2017/01/14/adidass-high-tech-factory-brings-production-back-to-germany
 Caliendo, H. (2018, January 5). 3D-Printed Sneakers Gaining Traction. Retrieved from https://www.additivemanufacturing.media/blog/post/3d-printed-sneakers-gaining-traction(2)
 3D-Printed Sneakers Gaining Traction. (2017, June 29). The Economist.com. Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/briefing/2017/06/29/3d-printers-start-to-build-factories-of-the-future?zid=293&ah=e50f636873b42369614615ba3c16df4a